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Several hon. Members rose--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Before I call the next hon. Member, I appeal to all right hon. and hon. Members to keep their remarks within a reasonable limit. There is little time left for the debate and many hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye.

5.20 pm

Mr. George Mudie (Leeds, East): First, I pay tribute to the speech made by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). Sometimes, he infuriates both friends and enemies, but when he pitches his speech in the manner that he has just done, it is hard not to pay tribute to its content.

However, I shall not go down the road of that speech, which dealt largely with asylum matters. Asylum is under debate for obvious political reasons, providing a nice bit of knock-about, a few good headlines and, perhaps, a little embarrassment. I shall leave others to deal with it. I prefer to take the opportunity to deal with a number of immigration matters, which arise from having thousands of constituents who were either born in the Indian subcontinent or whose mum and dad were born there while they were born here, who, over the years, have had problems with the immigration rules. I prefer to leave asylum to the heavy hitters, who have much in their past to cover up and will do their best to do so, and deal with immigration.

I offer the Government my condolences because this is another matter where 18 years of neglect and hostility by some of the culprits smiling on the Opposition Benches could not be put right in the two and a half years that Labour has been in government. The dates and times, the run-down of staff and the ordering of computers, are all grist to that mill.

I congratulate the Government on a number of immigration matters. First--this might be seen as a slightly back-handed compliment because it concerns a Minister from another Department--I congratulate the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz). Immigration matters are shared between the Home Office and the Foreign Office, and my hon. Friend has, uniquely, started surgeries for all hon. Members with difficult immigration problems. When a Minister deals with immigration problems, he does not have much spare time, he does not get much thanks, he has a fair amount of reading and he probably has 649 hon. Members coming

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to him with problems. Therefore, to put aside time to meet hon. Members by appointment is particularly courageous, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on that initiative. I hope that it spreads to others.

The other matter to which I want to refer was mentioned by the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), and the context in which she mentioned it was sad. The Home Secretary and the Government must be congratulated on the removal of the primary purpose rule within months of taking office. That was probably the most pernicious and vicious piece of legislation, the most blatant piece of race legislation, which affected individuals, and young individuals in the main, ever to have been put on the statute book. When it was consigned to history within months of Labour taking office, I thought that no one grieved.

It is sad that, in the context of what the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald said was an attempt at a firm and fair immigration policy, she alluded to the removal of that measure as bad. I hope that, when the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) replies, he makes it clear, for the relief of many British people and many serious politicians on both sides of the House, that that pernicious piece of legislation is deservedly buried and will not reappear whatever happens. I see some Conservative Members shake their heads, but I hope that they represent the minority. Within months of taking office, the Labour Government removed that provision, and they deserve to be congratulated on that.

I also congratulate the Government on the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, particularly the reinstatement of appeals for visitors who have been refused a visitor's visa, a right which was removed by the previous Government in 1993, placing an undeserved burden on the shoulders of entry clearance officers, who have a hard enough job without that. I am often critical of them and sometimes furious with them, but they have an unenviable job. When they were given the final say on visitors, that proved the last straw for many of them. However, I am told by the Minister that, in October, those appeals will be reintroduced with a comprehensive system of fast tracking, which will deal with the differences that often arise in immigration cases where time matters.

Having said that, I should like quietly to ask Ministers to rethink two matters. One concerns a sad legacy that we inherited on which we should have wanted to act immediately, and it involves DNA testing. I have come across several cases which reveal an outrageous bureaucracy and hard-heartedness, whereby parents have had the right to come here with their children, but one of their children, because of the paucity of records in the Indian subcontinent, is singled out as not being their true child and so is prevented from coming here. Incredibly, that means that a youngster is deliberately separated from his or her family and raised in another country with relatives while his or her bothers or sisters are raised here with their mum and dad.

I speak with feeling on the matter because I have one particular case that I have raised with the Home Secretary and on which I shall continue to campaign until my dying day. One does not have to have been in a happy family to know what family life is all about. For us as a state

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deliberately to separate children from their mum and dad and brothers and sisters so that they grow up without them is unacceptable.

The problem caused by the lack of records was put right by DNA testing. That allowed any dispute to be settled scientifically. I hope that there is not an hon. Member who would not want that wrong to be put right if scientific evidence showed that we had deprived an individual of a family life and all that goes with it. We have done that and we are continuing to do so. That is the saddest thing that any Government or human being could do. What would happen in other aspects of Home Office life--what would have happened to the Birmingham Six--if we said that, although scientific evidence had proved that a wrong had been committed, we were not prepared to put it right? I cannot think of an hon. Member who would not be on his feet objecting to that.

I remember the Friday afternoon when my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) raised the issue of first world war pardons. Men were shot or imprisoned 80 years ago and all were dishonoured, but medical evidence on their condition emerged years later and the House is united in its determination to put things right. However, there is studied indifference to the DNA issue.

Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow): When DNA testing proves conclusively that children have been denied the right to be brought up with their family, would not the offer of a concession by the Home Office be a common-sense way forward? Will my hon. Friend push the Minister further on that point?

Mr. Mudie: I am grateful for that intervention, but may I consult my notes? I should have said that the Home Office accepted that a wrong had been done, but the individual was over 18 by that time and it said, "Of course you're right, but you're past 18 and you cannot come in." One should not say to someone whose childhood was taken away as he could not be brought up by his mum and dad, "We have done you no wrong." Anybody with any decency about him would say, "We have committed a grievous sin and we should put it right." I would welcome any concessions and plead with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to reconsider the decision on this matter.

Sir Peter Lloyd (Fareham): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, sometimes, the problem occurs because the family substitutes a nephew or niece on its list and that person is allowed in? Is he suggesting that such a person would be returned? I do not think so. The problem is more difficult than he describes.

Mr. Mudie: The problem is difficult. It has various aspects such as the passage of time and the person involved growing up and having a family, but I cannot get away from the fact that we wrongly separated individuals from their family. How should we behave? The House should not look around for excuses, but face up to the fact that we made a mistake, although not deliberately. [Interruption.] I am being signalled to finish, and quite rightly, but I want to discuss bonds.

I am in difficulty, as the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald raised this point and I am in the same position as her. I confess that I discovered that

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the consultation document had been sent out only as I was researching my speech. We are too late. The 1999 Act refers to the bond as well, so I hold my hands up. I appeal to my hon. Friend the Minister not to put bonds for visitors into operation until we have seen how the re-established appeals procedure works. She is quite right to say that a number of constituents have said to Members, "If they don't believe us, let us put up a bond." Members have passed that on to the Home Office and, as a listening Government, we have put the proposal into legislation. However, a number of Members were influenced by the past seven years, when visitors' rights of appeal were not permitted.


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